‘(The WA500) is a joy to run’
The Marquis family got their start in farming by renting land. After 30 years of building agriculture businesses, one of its Illinois plants has become the epicenter of the ethanol boom.
“When the Hennepin location opened, it was designed to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol annually,” said Director of Business Development Bart Pieper. “Eventually, output expanded to nearly 160 million gallons. We’ve since increased our capacity to approximately 365 million gallons annually. This is the largest dry-mill ethanol facility in the world.”
The daily production numbers for Marquis Energy’s Illinois site are staggering.
“In a typical day we produce a million gallons of ethanol, 3,000 tons of dried distillers grains (DDG) and five semi loads of corn oil,” computed Senior Project Manager Lester Smith. “Basically, we take corn, turn it into alcohol for fuel, feed for cows and have a little bit of oil left over.”
Including its sister operation in Wisconsin, which produces 100 millions gallons of ethanol a year, Marquis pumps nearly 465 million gallons annually and employs 250 people.
Each day Marquis Energy accepts 500 truckloads of corn from a 75-mile radius of its Hennepin location. In addition, the process results in a significant amount of other byproducts.
“We use a dry process to grind the corn and use fermentation to extract the fuel component,” noted Pieper. “A bushel of corn yields about 2.9 gallons of ethanol and nearly 16 pounds of DDG, which is used as a high-protein animal feed. So, we export quite a bit of that product as well.”
A clear vision
Having an idea and acting on it was the spark that led to the creation of Marquis Energy. Meticulous planning and a prime location along the Illinois River helped it to flourish.
“When we built the Hennepin plant, we had a layout for all the roads and utilities as if we were building another facility here,” stated Pieper. “That was helpful when we expanded in 2014.
“Our location is advantageous,” he added. “The majority of the gasoline consumption in the United States occurs in the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. From here, we have direct access to the East Coast via the Norfolk Southern railway; and the Illinois River allows us to barge to the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River. Having both options gives us a lot of flexibility so we aren’t tied to any method of delivery.”
Those logistical benefits are further enhanced by Marquis Energy’s relatively southern location. The Hennepin site can barge along the river year-round and its rail line bypasses Chicago, eliminating the expense of a rail switch. Competitive businesses in the northern reaches of the Midwest must negotiate far more locks along the river and can be limited by ice in the winter. Plus, rail lines in that area typically pass through Chicago.
Even the company’s Badger State operation, located about 40 miles north of the Wisconsin Dells, offers a unique advantage with its direct rail access to Canada – the world’s largest importer of ethanol – via the Canadian National Railway Company.
“Logistics are very important to this industry, and we believe we have an unrivaled reach to many markets,” noted Pieper. “Products we make here have been shipped to China, Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Israel, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom.”
Up to the challenge
With a worldwide customer base and a constant stream of delivery trucks each day, Marquis Energy is nearly always open for business.
“We aren’t quite 24/7/365; I’d say we’re 24/7/360,” estimated Smith in reference to the company’s work schedule. “We run around the clock, although we do shut down about five days a year for maintenance.”
In order to meet production goals, Marquis Energy requires equipment that can match its intense schedule. In the fall of 2018, it turned to Roland Machinery and Territory Manager Matt Frans for a pair of Komatsu WA500-8 wheel loaders for the Hennepin plant.
“We were using a competitive brand’s loaders and just replacing them,” noted Smith. “We wanted to break that cycle, and last fall we decided to see what else was out there. After looking at the whole package, Roland and Komatsu were the clear choice.”
The WA500s – each equipped with a 14-foot high-tip bucket – have made a solid impression.
“The WA500 has plenty of power, it’s comfortable and the maneuverability is great,” said Material Handler Chris Flowers. “It’s a joy to run.”
“The reverser fan has been a big plus to keep the engine compartment clean,” added Material Manager Andrew Lanxon. “The high-lift function allows us to easily load our trucks, which are a little taller than normal. It’s been a great machine.”
Smith expects the WA500s to be a staple at Marquis Energy. “They aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “They’ll be moving about 3,000 tons of DDG a day until they die.”
Growth has been a constant for Marquis Energy and as long as consumers are looking to save money, it’s a safe bet that trend will continue.
“Ethanol is more affordable than wholesale gasoline because it’s a homegrown, high-octane fuel,” noted Director of Public Relations and Political Affairs Danielle Anderson. “Everyone is looking for healthier, cleaner and more economical options, especially at the pump. That makes our product viable going forward.”